Spatial distribution of dominant arboreal ants in a Malagasy coastal rainforest: gaps and presence of an invasive species.
We conducted a survey along three belt transects located at increasing distances from the coast to determine whether a non-random arboreal ant assemblage, such as an ant mosaic, exists in the rainforest on the Masoala Peninsula, Madagascar. In most tropical rainforests, very populous colonies of territorially dominant arboreal ant species defend absolute territories distributed in a mosaic pattern. Among the 29 ant species recorded, only nine had colonies large enough to be considered potentially territorially dominant; the remaining species had smaller colonies and were considered non-dominant. Nevertheless, the null-model analyses used to examine the spatial structure of their assemblages did not reveal the existence of an ant mosaic. Inland, up to 44% of the trees were devoid of dominant arboreal ants, something not reported in other studies. While two Crematogaster species were not associated with one another, Brachymyrmex cordemoyi was positively associated with Technomyrmex albipes, which is considered an invasive species - a non-indigenous species that has an adverse ecological effect on the habitats it invades. The latter two species and Crematogaster ranavalonae were mutually exclusive. On the other hand, all of the trees in the coastal transect and at least 4 km of coast were occupied by T. albipes, and were interconnected by columns of workers. Technomyrmex albipes workers collected from different trees did not attack each other during confrontation tests, indicating that this species has formed a supercolony along the coast. Yet interspecific aggressiveness did occur between T. albipes and Crematogaster ranavalonae, a native species which is likely territorially dominant based on our intraspecific confrontation tests. These results suggest that the Masoala rainforest is threatened by a potential invasion by T. albipes, and that the penetration of this species further inland might be facilitated by the low density of native, territorially dominant arboreal ants normally able to limit its progression.